Rainsy: EU trade move to bolster bid for Cambodian democracy

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Cambodian exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy said yesterday the European Union’s (EU) consideration of lifting trade privileges for Phnom Penh will add momentum to efforts to restore democracy in the country despite a government crackdown.

The EU published a report yesterday on a preliminary assessment that Sam Rainsy said will be the basis for suspending trade privileges for Cambodia. The EU announced earlier this year that it would begin a monitoring process to decide on the lifting of preferential duty-free and quota-free imports from the Southeast Asian nation.

“If they don’t want Cambodia to face an economic crisis, with hundreds of thousands of workers losing their jobs, they must restore democracy,” Sam Rainsy told a news conference outside Malaysia’s Parliament building after meeting a group of Malaysian lawmakers.

Sam Rainsy was allowed into Malaysia from Paris, his home in exile, on Saturday after Thailand barred him and other opposition activists from transiting through the country. But their plan to return home on Saturday, Cambodia’s Independence Day, was thwarted as the Cambodian government mounted tight security at the border.

The EU’s move came after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party won a sweeping victory in 2018 elections. The EU and others said the polls were not free and fair because the sole opposition party — the Cambodia National Rescue Party, co-founded by Sam Rainsy — was dissolved in 2017 by Cambodia’s Supreme Court, which is seen as being under the government’s influence.

Sam Rainsy insisted yesterday that the timing was now right for peaceful resistance to topple Hun Sen’s government due to the “unique combination of internal pressure and external pressure”.

Phnom Penh’s move on Sunday to release party leader Kem Sokha from house arrest after more than two years was an indication of mounting pressure on the government, he said. The treason charge against Kem Sokha remains, and he is banned from politics and leaving the country.

Despite deploying troops to secure the border, Sam Rainsy said he believes Hun Sen is uncertain of their loyalty because “the army will stand with the people, the army will not stand with a dictator”.

Cambodia’s exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy talks to the media outside Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. PHOTO: AP